Mike Strantz, who passed away in 2005 at the age of 50 after having designed only eight new courses, is the critically acclaimed genius that designed Royal New Kent. Strantz’s layouts are known for being unique and memorable, and that is certainly true of Royal New Kent. The publicity campaign for the club calls the course “an inland links” and “a tribute to Royal County Down and Ballybunion,” two of Strantz’s favorite courses. Trying to emulate those courses is a lofty goal, one that may be impossible to attain without proximity to the sea. However if you can imagine plucking up Royal County Down by its roots and transplanting it, bunkers, dunes and fescue included, to a hilly inland tree-lined landscape similar to that of St George’s Hill or Sunningdale, then you’ll have an idea as to what Royal New Kent is like.
The course is a beautiful brute, measuring over 7,300 yards from the tips and is rated as the most difficult course in Virginia. Like the fraternity pledge in the movie Animal House after each smack on the bum from the pledge-master, when you finish your round at Royal New Kent you’ll feel beaten but will likely say to the starter: “Thank you Sir, may I have another?” Many of the fairways are bordered by dunes and hills covered with high fescue. The landing areas are fairly wide, therefore, played from the correct tees the tee shots are not too dangerous. This is a course that requires great focus and concentration on the second shots (and third shots on the par fives) as there are all varieties of danger and difficulty lurking, including more than 120 strategically placed bunkers, most of them large and/or deep. Several holes (including my favorite, the par five 5th) have narrow well-protected waists that separate one section of fairway from another and for good measure there are a few blind shots that result from changes in elevation. The large greens (one is 80 yards deep) are well protected by bunkers and/or burns. Several of the greens are multi-tiered requiring an approach to the correct section in order to either hold the green or avoid a three putt.
The first hole is a dogleg left with an elevated tee shot down into a valley. To shorten the hole a long hitter can cut the dogleg, which is over high hills (higher than the Himalayas of Prestwick). The green is elevated with a false front. A short approach can roll back 60 yards. The 2nd is a fantastic par five in the shape of an upside down fishhook. If you dare to try a 225-250-yard shot (all carry) across a deep hollow you can go for the green in two. All four par threes are interesting. The 7th is 173 yards from an elevated windswept tee to an angled green fronted by a burn with bunkers right and back. There is really no safe place to miss and club selection here is crucial and difficult due to the size and shape of the green and the wind. No two holes on this course are the same and each will be remembered in your mind’s eye long after you leave the course.
Above article by Stewart Abramson
Formerly owned by Traditional Golf Properties, Wingfield
Golf purchased Royal New Kent in 2018 and subsequently closed the facility for
restoration. The new owner worked with the late Mike Strantz’s original
team to restore the course – which reopened in Spring 2019 – at a
reputed cost in excess of $2 million.
Reviewing Royal New Kent required more time and thought investment than any of my others to date. Fitting, too, that it also ended up being my longest. There is so much to say about this one-of-a-kind “links,” and virtually every hole is worthy of study. Royal New Kent is an exceptional manifestation of “strategy” in golf architecture today, and while many Mike Strantz designs are polarizing, there is absolutely no question that every single bunker, mound, hazard, and rumple are intentionally placed to create thought-provoking decisions on this property.
There is not a term which adequately captures the ambience of Royal New Kent. The course is entirely manufactured without ever feeling unnatural. With corridors set among towering dunes – particularly on the front nine – one is immediately lost in the grandeur of the natural locale. This escape allows the player to truly focus on the shot at hand, which, as mentioned above, is essential to successfully conquering the visually intimidating, yet pleasantly playable routing.
The beguiling layout at Royal New Kent asks the player to consider a multitude of questions on virtually every shot. The front nine features the most riveting start to a round I can imagine. An examination of each hole captures the daring, risk-reward nature of the Royal New Kent adventure:
• #1: With a stone wall right of the corridor, players’ sense of place is immediately sparked at Royal New Kent. The hole turns 90 degrees to the left, and most can easily hit a tee shot straight down the fairway at the turn. However, depending on one’s ability to carry a drive, an aggressive line over the banks can shorten the opener considerably. Beware, though, as any shot which does not hurdle the mounding is surely a goner, and even those which do carry face an uneven lie to this perched, sharply tiered green complex. Leave any approach short, and prepare to watch your shot embarrassingly trickle back down into the fairway upwards of 75 yards. When one descends from the tee box into the fairway, it is impossible to see beyond the flanking, towering dunes. The indescribable feeling of separation sets the tone for an unforgettable day in this very historic part of the nation.
• #2: This horseshoe-shaped par five is a stunner regardless of whether one attacks it as a two or three-shotter. The more aggressive player can take driver from the tee, though the fairway pinches and slides left in the ideal landing zone, further lengthening the second shot over a deep basin. Although entirely aerial and requiring a roughly 240 yard carry from the drive zone, the green offers some relief for the more heroic player with a backstop. In fact, one wishing to go for this putting surface in two might actually want to lay back with a metal to the nearer portion of the fairway right. However, most players will likely approach this hole with three shots in mind. The initial landing zone is fairly generous, as is the layup area. However, to achieve the best angle for the third shot, one must hug the ravine as closely as possible, less they wish to face a green which is sharply canted from left-to-right and away from them. Unbelievably fun no matter what strategy the player chooses, the second at Royal New Kent is a phenomenal demonstration of how width, wind, natural terrain, and options create world-class architectural masterpieces.
• #3: The tee box at the par three third is roughly 100 yards wide, generating new challenges for players during every round. The kidney shaped green is best tackled with a right-to-left shot shape, especially since the putting surface slopes in the opposite direction. Though this complex lacks bunkers, deep crevices left and right can act either as hazards or safe bailouts depending on pin location.
• #4: Though the fairway is blind from the tee at the fourth, it is massively wide if attacked with a long-iron or metal. Wisely, Strantz placed a behemoth, pronged bunker on the left hand side. This trap must be challenged to achieve the best angle on the approach.
• #5: The entire corridor at the fifth is unfathomably unique. With four distinct hourglass-like bulbs, players have a multitude of landing zone options on every shot. From the tee, most will likely aim for the second which is ultimately abutted by a bunkered dune, bisecting and blinding the fairway beyond. One must be careful to keep their drive far enough back from these mounds or risk having to lay up with a high lofted club. While there is plenty of width right for the remainder of the hole, Strantz once again allows the more aggressive player to challenge the rough and woods on the left for a preferred angle on most pin-placements. The handsome colonial era fence in play across the fortress-like ridges here perfectly fits the setting of the Williamsburg area and is a feature I had never encountered previously.
• #6: When I saw that the sixth had the number one rated handicap, I was confused. While there is a large waste area left and a small bunker in the landing zone right, the tee shot appears otherwise straightforward. Even though the hole plays gently uphill, nothing seemed particularly severe. When I arrived at the putting surface, though, my jaws dropped. This green complex is a terrifying creation, featuring four tiny tiers and not one, but two deadly slopes which drop sharply off the left. It is impossible to capture in writing how exacting one’s approach must be to even think about two putting here; a three or four whack from the wrong tier is an achievement worthy of applause.
• #7: On the entryway, players are greeted to Royal New Kent with a glimpse of just one hole: the par three seventh. Dropping from an elevated tee, the thin putting surface sits diagonally to the line of play. In the front, a gorgeous natural creek welcomes any miss short, and beyond, thick fescue-covered banks and pot bunkers capture any overly conservative block. Although this hole only presents one option – a perfectly struck long-iron – its use of natural elements is exceptionally compelling.
• #8: The par four eighth ended up being among my favorite on the property as Strantz completely fooled me. The fairway seemed wide and deep, leaving any decent tee shot with a chance for birdie. When I arrived at my well-struck drive, I immediately realized that it had been hit too long. Now, instead of having a benign sand wedge into a back-to-front green, I had absolutely no view of the putting surface and needed to flight a high shot over a towering dune, stopping the ball on a canted, left-to-right slope. Holes like this make me ecstatic for my return to Royal New Kent!
• #9: The snaking creek down the right side of the ninth is absolutely charming. More conservative players, who avoid this waterway left, are provided with a better angle into the putting surface, though anyone looking to gain a distance advantage must find a narrower strip of short-grass past two bunkers. Interestingly, the rough to the right of the creek is mown fairly short, and as I found out thanks to a poorly struck drive, actually provided a pretty decent place to miss and get up-and-down.
• #10: The turning hole at Royal New Kent is yet another fascinating puzzle of a par five. Should players find the wide fairway, they face a delightful risk-reward decision. Going for the green in two is a possibility, but the shot to reach must hook significantly from right-to-left, and carry a hazard and bunker to a Biarritz-style green. A more conservative player can lay-up, leaving a wedge or short-iron into this bold putting surface. En route, however, they also must find a sliver of short-grass on their approach just beyond a massive waste area. Regardless of how one attacks the hole, precision is of the utmost importance.
• #11: The green complex at the par four eleventh is terrifying. With three distinct levels from left-to-right, staying below the hole on any tier is essential.
• #12: The sharp hourglass green at the downhill, par three twelfth is one-of-a-kind – worth stopping what you are doing and pulling up Google Maps to get a visual. As I found out the hard way, landing on the thin middle strip creates speed difficulties putting to either end.
• #13: Once again, the player is presented with an unbelievably wide fairway at the short par four thirteenth. However, as always, Strantz places massive bunkers directly in the line of play for the desired angle. Bailing out left leaves a near impossible wedge into this very shallow putting surface.
• #14: Plummeting into a valley, one must keep a long-iron or fairway metal in the right portion of the fairway to have any sight of this severely pitched green.
• #15: This long par three is deceptive, with some flat area to bail out left and long. Miss right or short, and risk watching your ball roll 50 yards into hidden hazards.
• #16: The tee shot at this par four-and-a-half strongly rewards aggressive players. While one can conservatively take a long-iron or metal straight from the tee, they will then face a lengthy approach into a very tough green. Any player who risks shaping a shot hard right-to-left, however, can hit a speed slot and gain an extra 50 yards – a massive advantage given the difficult putting surface.
• #17: A creek runs up the right hand side of this very long par five, ultimately crossing just short of the putting surface. For most pin placements, challenging this creek on the layup shot is essential for the best angle. Being as aggressive as possible with one’s length off both the tee and approach also pays off significantly; with such a shallow putting surface, it is nearly impossible to hold the green with a long-iron in hand.
• #18: After 17 holes of non-stop puzzles, the wide peninsula-fairway at the eighteenth seems to be quite straightforward. But, Strantz still had one trick up his sleeve. If playing from the proper tee, most will face the choice of using a metal or taking some distance off their driver. What is not obvious, however, is that the fairway is actually slightly canted in either direction perpendicular to play. Lay-up with the metal, and your ball will be stunted immediately into an upslope, leaving an even longer approach into a shallow green over a pond. Play more aggressively with the driver, and risk catching the other side of the ridge which may funnel your ball into that same pond. Precision is demanded to your very last stroke at Royal New Kent.
The course conditions at Royal New Kent, in my opinion, capture the true essence and roots of our sport. With firm greens and fairways, players must be careful about the way in which the ball reacts with the ground. Among the most compelling aspects of the course was the irregularity of the rough. Too many players today shun courses which do not mow all grass to specific, consistent heights. At Royal New Kent, it is impossible to anticipate what type of lie you will draw in the long grass. The rough is a hazard which should be avoided, and Royal New Kent’s maintenance practices capture that spirit exquisitely.
My only critique of the property was the stark difference in setting between the front and back nine. Set deep in a forest, the front flows beautifully and feels completely at harmony with its surroundings. Expecting more of the same on the back, I felt slightly let down playing through neighborhoods. Furthermore, the back was even less walkable with awkwardly prolonged distances between holes. Though disappointing from a transition standpoint, I applaud Strantz for prioritizing architecture and using the best land to design great golf.
Though my words here will never capture the way my heart raced playing Royal New Kent, I do hope this review showcases the immense variety and artistry inherent in virtually every hole on the property. Though my exposure to Virginia golf is quite limited, it seems impossible that there are 50 courses which could be ranked higher in the Commonwealth. It comfortably sits in my personal top 25 of 225+ played, and I am very eager to return – the highest compliment I can offer, as my true passion is experiencing new courses!
Excellent review. It should be ranked much higher in the state. About #5 in my book. I would take exception to your comment regarding front vs back. Yes there are houses on the back. They never impact play or take away from the visual beauty of the golf holes, except maybe 12.
Thank you so much for the kind comment on my review. My understanding is that RNK is not actually ranked low, but is just awaiting a new ranking on the next update (it was taken off the list during its renovation). I have not played much in Virginia, but as you can probably tell, I found RNK to be among my favorite courses played anywhere. I agree that the golf holes are equally strong on the back.
Thanks again for the feedback and hope you are having a great season!
Defiantly underrated on this site. This Mike Strantz design course features many risk reward shots and a challenging layout with many blind shots and lightning fast undulating greens. Teeing off on the 10th holes gives amazing views and the 18th hole has one of the best finishing holes I've played!
Royal New Kent captivates the minute your drive in- the Royal Aberdeen clubhouse greets you. On the course you are challenged immediately with classic Strantz faux-link magic. Holes 1-4 will leave you in a cold sweat. Just wish they could keep ups with the tremendous challenges of maintaining the monster traps on the back nine.
Was thrilled to replay this course since the new ownership team has thoughtfully taken the time and spent the money to bring it back to Mike Strantz’s vision of how this course should look and feel. It is easy to get to with proximity to Richmond and their are multiple courses nearby including Vineterra which are also great to play. This is not a casual beginner course but awesome for the average to experienced player looking for an experience that makes you feel you could easily be in Ireland or Scotland. I would encourage those who have not tried it yet to get out there and play it!!!
I recently had the pleasure of playing this gem, and what a surprise it was. The course had gone downhill and fallen somewhat from grace, but thanks to the passion of several investors, it was decided to close this Mike Strantz original course and give it an incredible boost of life for its membership and daily fee players.
With the original drawings on hand and an incredible effort to rally together the shaping team from 20 years ago that built the course, the platform for an emotional resurgence was set.
We all know that Strantz was an artist who didn’t design straightforward courses. This layout outside of Richmond is among his very best, and today's presentation of the course is sublime. From the very first tee, you literally see how difficult the terrain is to navigate, and by no means should you punch above your weight on this course as it’s extremely difficult from start to finish.
The landforms and topography are aggressive, inviting, exhilarating and memorable, which is exactly the cocktail that we love and expect from this architect.
While they market the layout as a replica of famous venues from Ireland and Scotland, that brought a smile to my face as I took those suggestions with a grain of salt.
The playing conditions are superb, the greens are wild, the presentation is simply eye opening, and the challenge is relentless! If you want to see how good a player you are, play Royal New Kent from the regular tees and see how humble you become!
What a great golf experience and a true celebration for golf in Virginia.
Today is the day Royal New Kent reopened. I had the pleasure to play today. The renovation of the course followed the goal to replicate the course as Mike Stranz originally designed. They brought in Mike's widow and she had all of the original plans. They utilized much of the original team also for the work. The principle difficulty RNK had was drainage. Of the 2 Million spent on the renovation about half was for replacing most all of the drainage system.
The course came out grand. It is very much what it was originally. At this date it is not per se primary growth season in VA for grass. So my review is based on that. The greens are in phenomenal shape. The green complexes are bewitching. Precision is required with your entries.
The vast work on the drainage is readily noticed and seems to be working quite well. VA has had a very wet winter and early spring. The bunkers have been worked on extensively and the white sand is fine and diabolical.
Pick your tee box carefully. For the Male golfer there are 5 sets of boxes from 5455 with a 132 slope and 6132 with a 142 slope all the way to 7480 with a 77/154 rating. Good shots can end in precarious spots. A Mike Stranz feature is diagonal greens which require precise distance control based on the direction hit. With many elevated greens, a near miss can trundle down a slope to leave a 15 foot elevation climb bunker shot.
The par 3's are all unique and memorable. The 4's are varied and several are very reminiscent of the copied holes from Royal County Down and Ballybunion. The par 5's may be the strongest set of holes the course has. Each quite different and memorable.
Royal New Kent is a stellar course and should climb on all the ratings lists. It is a great thing that Wingfield Management did by recreating as best they could a true Mike Stranz original.
A fantastic ride through the beautiful Virgina countryside. Mike Strantz was a genius of a designer and the golf industry lost someone very special when he passed. The course maintains a huge intimidation factor throughout the round in the form of giant blow out bunkers, steep hills, abundant mounding, heavy contoured greens, and vicious pot bunkers...... but with all that said..... the course is very playable.
A high handicap player may have a long hard day, but a mid handicapper (and lower) will find it very enjoyable. The fairways are wide and greens are large. But in my opinion the most playable factor in the design is the overall variety in the design. Not every hole is a beast for every player. I am a 9 handicap and managed to play at that level despite the appearance of the obstacles in front of me. I had a couple tough holes with high numbers but this was balanced by capitalizing on a few birdie opportunities (the par 5s and short part 4s in particular).
Stand out holes (and there are PLENTY) to me were the par 5 2nd with its boomerang fairway, the unbelievable 7th (par 3) which is just a treat from the upper tee box, the short dog leg right par 4 8th is a show stopper with its second shot wedge approach to a green wedged in the dunes, and the sweeping reachable par five 17th with its creek fronted green.
The only bad hole (which would be a stand out on any other course) is the last. This par 4 just does not fit the rest of the links. It is a good hole with a carry over water to a peninsula fairway, then another carry over water to the shallow green. Just doesn't fit the rest of the layout in my opinion.Anyway, I highly recommend that golfers venture to Royal New Kent for a round when in Virginia. It's a great course designed by a great architect. Enjoy and keep the ball in play! :)